School listing draws attention of ACLU

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ Staff Writer

A fledgling Clovis Municipal Schools program that links students and parents with church ministers is under investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union, according to officials.

The New Mexico chapter of the ACLU requested all internal correspondence regarding the Chaplaincy Program at Clovis schools about four months ago, according to New Mexico ACLU Director Peter Simonson.

“Initially, the program did raise flags. It looked like a program that could explicitly endorse the tradition of religious counseling to students,” Simonson said.

Poised for implementation in Clovis schools in August, the Chaplaincy Program will add telephone numbers of church ministers on a resource list for parents and students. The church contacts would only be added to the list upon their request, according to school officials.

A list of resources, which includes organizations such as the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army, is already given to parents and students in the event of a crisis, such as a house fire or death in the family, according to school officials.

Clovis Municipal Schools Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm said e-mails, meeting minutes and descriptions of the program were provided to the ACLU following its request.

Chapter officials have yet to review the material, but within the next two weeks should determine if the program violates the First Amendment, which protects the right to freedom of religion and expression from government interference, Simonson said.

“If the schools are using their own money to support a cadre of people that have a religious mission,” the program would infringe upon constitutional rights, and concern the ACLU, Simonson said.

Seidenwurm said school funds will not be used to run the program.

School resources, however, were used in its planning, she said.
But school officials maintain the program is worthwhile and does not infringe upon constitutional rights because it is voluntary.

“It is just one more way to help serve kids and their families,” Seidenwurm said.